Emily Eliza Hadfield was born in Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England, in 1884, the daughter of Frederick and Eliza Hadfield (née Twigg). Her father was a sub-postmaster and shopkeeper, and while Emily was still a child, the family relocated to the village of Hugglescote, Leicestershire. By 1915, the family home was at The Post Office, in Hugglescote.
She was educated at Wellington Street School, in Burton-on-Trent, and after passing the appropriate examinations in Leicester; she became a school teacher and taught at Slater Street School, and Groby Infants’ School, in Leicester. She eventually became head mistress of Snibston Council Infants’ School. During this time, she had met Charles Henry Booth - better known as Henry Booth - who was a clerk and the son of a former Leicester licensed victualler and the two had fallen in love.
In 1910, Henry Booth immigrated to Canada and settled in Ottawa, Ontario, where he took up a position as an auditor at The Château Laurier in that city. On the 17th September 1913, Emily Hadfield arrived in Montreal, Quebec, where Henry was waiting for her, and they were married within hours of her arrival in the city. A son, Nigel Frederick, was born to them one year later, in September 1914.
In the spring of 1915, Emily Booth‘s mother was taken seriously ill and Emily decided to return to Leicester to visit her, and the rest of her family - and take their new grandson with her. Consequently, she booked second cabin passage on the
Lusitania’s May sailing from New York to Liverpool.
Leaving Ottawa at the end of April, the pair arrived at the Cunard berth at Pier 54 in New York, on the morning of 1st May 1915 in time for the liner’s scheduled sailing at 10.00am. In the event, she did not leave until just after mid-day, as she had to embark passengers, crew and cargo from the Anchor Lines vessel the S.S. Cameronia which the British Admiralty had requisitioned for war service at the end of April. Just six days later, on the afternoon of 7th May, she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-20 off the coast of southern Ireland and only 250 miles away from her home port.
Although baby Nigel managed to survive the sinking, Emily Booth lost her life. She was aged 30 years. As no trace of her was ever discovered afterwards, she has no known grave.
On the morning of Saturday 8th May, two of her sisters, Mrs. Cluley and Miss Louisa Mary Hadfield travelled to Liverpool and the Cunard offices there, to seek any news of Emily Booth or her child but had to return to Hugglescote the following night, having learned nothing.
Then, Mrs. Cluley gave an interview to a reporter of local newspaper The Coalville Times, which said: -
Mrs. Cluley stated that they arrived at Liverpool at 3-15 on Saturday afternoon. They went to the Cunard Company’s offices and stayed there all night until past midnight on Sunday. They met two trains bringing in survivors, but all their enquiries about their sister failed to obtain any information concerning her. Passengers she conversed with said it was too horrible to explain. The boat went down so quickly that the passengers had to do the best they could for themselves. A lot of them jumped clear of the vessel as it went down though many were sucked under.
“I was talking to one man,” added Mrs. Cluley “who was a third class passenger and told me that he had saved one lady. He had two brothers on board and did not know anything about them. He said there was no panic as everyone thought the vessel would float. Nobody thought it would sink so soon.” Mrs. Cluley also stated that some of the survivors had their heads and arms bandaged and had to be helped along.
At about one o’clock on Monday afternoon, the 10th May, a cablegram was received by Emily Booth’s parents at Hugglescote Post Office, from Henry Booth, then at Montreal, who had presumably been contacted by Cunard at Queenstown. The cable stated that baby Nigel was safe at 9. King’s Terrace, Queenstown, and asked if someone could go there and pick him up. He added that he was terribly concerned about his wife.
On the evening of the same day, Emily Booth’s brother George and sister Louisa left Leicestershire for Queenstown to collect him and returned with him, safe and well, on Wednesday afternoon. Whilst there, they searched in vain for any sign, dead or alive, of their sister.
In the 14th May 1915 edition of The Coalville Times - Coalville is a small town in Leicestershire - it was written of Emily Booth :-
Mrs. Booth was a very popular lady with all her acquaintances, being musical and of a very genial and happy disposition. She was a vocalist of considerable merit and frequently assisted with songs at concerts and social events, her services being much in requisition on these occasions. It may also be recalled that she ably played leading parts in the amateur performances of “Iolanthe” and the “Mikado” which proved so popular at Coalville a few years ago.
Mrs. Hadfield, Emily Booth’s mother, eventually recovered from her serious illness despite the trauma of the loss of her daughter.
In a curious and happy twist to the tragic tale, in August 1916, Emily Booth’s widowed husband Henry Booth married her sister Louisa at Hugglescote Parish Church. He had come back to Leicester to collect his son when the two had met up again and had fallen in love. Not long afterwards they went to Ottawa with Nigel.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1891 Census of England & Wales, 1901 Census of England & Wales, 1911 Census of England & Wales, Canadian Passenger Lists 1865 – 1935, Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection) 1621 – 1968, Margery Bonney, Coalville Times, Cunard Records, D. Hale, Jess Jenkins, Leicester Mail, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, PRO BT 100/345, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly